3rd Week of Lent, Friday, March 12
Hosea 14:2-10 / Mark 12:28-34
Jesus talks about love; "Love your neighbor as yourself. "
Author Ardis Whitman was having a hard time recovering from the death of her son. One night her college-aged granddaughter and her granddaughter's boyfriend took Ardis to a nightclub. When the orchestra struck up a memory-laden song, Ardis began to cry.
Spontaneously, the young couple took her hands and held them in theirs. That simple gesture of love, Ardis said later, "made God seem very close to me. It also reminded Ardis of something the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore said about a dear friend who had come to visit him: "After you had taken your leave, I found God's footprints on my floor."
How loving are we toward others, especially toward our own flesh and blood? "One kind word can warm three winters.” Japanese proverb
Many human endeavors fail because God is left out of the picture. Israel wanted to go her own way, relying on her resources and alliances with the mighty of the day. The mighty are toppled by mightier ones, and everything collapses. People today try to establish prosperity and happiness, but at the expense of others, with the force of arms or relying on gadgets, money, or palliatives. We cannot be saved without God. Salvation lies in love of God and is expressed in love of our neighbor. The rule of life of Christians is: Love God with your whole being, and your neighbor as yourself; see God in your neighbor and see also a bit of yourself in your neighbor.
The question asked by the scribe in today's gospel about the greatest commandment was not an idle one. The rabbis of the time had determined that there were 613 (365 days and 248 joints in the body. You remain in one piece all the days of the year! That is, if you are faithful to God everyday of your life you shall remain wholesome) distinct commandments in the law, and they distinguished not only between great and small commandments, but even very great and very small ones. Moreover, some people lived according to what was an observance of merely the letter of the law without regard for its spirit, despite the warnings of the prophets throughout the history of Israel that external cult was insufficient.
The answer of Jesus, to love God and love the neighbor, not only indicated the greatest commandment, but also revealed the spirit and purpose behind all of the other commandments of the law. We are so familiar with this teaching of Jesus that we may fail to see its vital import for our lives.
Today in the Church we have gotten away from a lot of very small rules. and obligations, which had their value at certain times and places. Some of you will remember when the fast before communion was so stringent that you dared not drink water or careful even brushing your teeth before Mass lest you accidentally swallow even a drop of water. There was a time too when you would not eat meat on a Friday. And before you would reach almost any moral decision, you first consulted a priest. Today we enjoy a greater freedom, and we know that the Spirit is at work in all of us.
One lesson to be drawn from today's gospel is that our freedom must be exercised to allow for a greater love of God and our neighbor. The validity of any movement we think we feel from the Spirit is to be confirmed by how conducive that movement is to loving God and the neighbor more unselfishly.
As mature people we all want to enjoy freedom and do not wish to be restrained like children by a whole host of petty rules and regulations. Our freedom will be really mature and responsible if we learn to live according to the great command to love God and our neighbor. And then, like the scribe in today's gospel, we too will not be far from the reign of God.
Lord our God, all throughout history people have experienced that we cannot be happy if we rely merely on our own insights and resources. God, do not let us idolize anything made with our own hands, but may we humbly seek justice, truth and happiness in cooperation and communion with you, as you taught us through Jesus Christ who lives with you and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen